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Understanding propaganda helps people discern truth

Propaganda is the stuff of political campaigns.  It has often been the tool of dictators to manipulate public opinion.

Propaganda includes a host of techniques: bandwagon appeal, glittering generalities, name calling, “plain folks,” cause-and-effect mismatch, bad logic, faulty analogy, vague terms, unwarranted extrapolation, flag-waving, evading questions, unclear policy, repeating lies, repeating slogans, loaded words, simplistic solutions, authority, exaggeration, fear, disinformation, scapegoating, transfer, testimonial and the list goes on.

We see these techniques in political campaigns, advertising and even the news.  Many TV news anchors have turned current events and investigative reporting into infotainment, treating political campaigns as weather reports and sports competitions.

No wonder the celebrity of the GOP candidate for President rises every time his name is mentioned as he tweets, shocks, is interviewed and has the last word with another tweet.  Media have allowed this free publicity, because it brings good ratings.

The more his name is mentioned and he is in front-page news or prime time, the more his popularity seems to grow, regardless of his rantings, name calling, jingoism, authoritarianism and narcissism.

He has eliminated “equal time” for other candidates, once a requirement for public airwaves.  Attention to the Democratic frontrunner still vets her—a woman—over and over, but there is little pursuit of the GOP candidate’s fraud trial being delayed until after the election, his unwillingness to show his tax returns, his bad business dealings and his fluctuating policies.

The media seem gullible, chasing the popularity trail and bombastic comments that diminish voices of reason.

There’s more to see than calling out the game of propaganda, which we will do.  There’s also the money game.

News on the super propagandist makes money even for liberal candidates and media.  Candidates play on fear of their opponent to raise money for ads.

Who wants to stop the flow of donations into their pockets to impede a propagandist who wins media attention with fewer ads? 

Every time media report a poll about narrowing margins, they stir anxiety that opens people’s pocketbooks.  Might it eventually leave some so fatigued of the campaign they don’t vote or stop donating?

Is propaganda duping even seasoned journalists, given that it plays into definitions of news—conflict, unusual, sensation, celebrity and sex.  Many seem blind to their complicity.  Are some emerging and voicing concerns?

What are some of the propaganda techniques and how do they work?

Bandwagon: Propaganda asks people to jump on the bandwagon with a popular candidate to be on the winning side. Polls play to this mindset.

Repetition: Propaganda repeats simple slogans to make a point.  Repeating lies over and over may make them seem true.  The message has a few points, repeated over and over. Repetition makes an audience remember the message.

Name calling: Propagandists use name calling and labeling to attack and diminish their opponents, arousing fear, prejudice and hate, rather than appealing to rational arguments based on facts.

Scapegoating: Propaganda blames an individual or group to distract attention, so the propagandist doesn’t need to take responsibility.  It uses false accusations, rumor and guilt by association.  It misrepresents an opponent’s stand.

Fear:  Propaganda stirs fear, uncertainty and anxiety to make people want simple, authoritarian solutions.  It uses generalities to oversimplify complex issues.

Celebrity: Propaganda creates celebrity or a personality cult, while appealing to plain folks.

Disinformation:  Propaganda twists truth, cherry picking truth to match the propagandist’s purposes.  It creates false history, uses half-truths, exaggerates truth, assigns new meanings to words, draws false conclusions, misuses statistics, takes quotes out of context, and associates something negative with something good.  

Dehumanize: Propaganda stereotypes to demonize and dehumanize an opponent as subhuman, immoral or worthless, undermining his/her credibility.

Confuse: Propaganda bombards a political opponent with rapid-fire questions, too much misinformation and vagueness to confuse and inhibit response.  It uses thought-stopping clichés.  The propagandist offers no clear, consistent policy solutions.

Glittering generalities:  Propaganda uses glittering generalities and emotionally loaded language.  It appeals to patriotism, drawing on emotion, not reason. 

Stretch boundaries: With a message that is outside the bounds of acceptance, propaganda expands the bounds of acceptance or makes less desirable positions seem more acceptable.

Isolation: Propaganda cuts people off from their usual social support systems, isolating them from their prior communities, beliefs and values.  It plays up divisions.

Propaganda gives misleading information—misinformation—to promote or demote a candidate, cause, ideology, agenda, viewpoint or product.

Merriam-Webster defines propaganda as false or exaggerated ideas or statements that are spread to help a cause, politician or government.

The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum says propaganda conjures “images of falsehood and manipulation, brainwashing and servility.  It is the antithesis of objectivity, rationality and truthfulness.”

Will rational discussion of policies and issues sway people from fears that make authoritarianism appeal?

Now, along with “mass” media, run by educated journalists, professionals working for major corporations, we have online media that make everyone reporters of their versions of news.

Are either concerned about freedoms of press, speech and assembly, or representative government?

Is propaganda just negative manipulation through lies to destroy democracy or can it be turned for the public good as people challenge it to create an educated, healthier, progressive citizenry?  Repetition is also positive tool for teaching and learning.

The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum website notes that in contrast to “ an educator who aims to foster independent judgment and thinking,” a propagandist discourages reflection. 

We need to be reminded that propaganda does not always achieve its goals.  It may result in backlash, if an audience is not receptive or is offended. 

How vulnerable, susceptible and gullible will people of faith be to being swayed by the current political propaganda appeals?  Will we be drawn away from our values because the choices are not pure? 

Will we opt for caring or hate?  Is the choice really between liberal, conservative, progressive or moderate? 

Will we be pulled by emotions and anger, or look for reasonable solutions?

Will we talk with each other? 

Most important, will we persevere through the far-too-long election season without being fatigued?  Will we turn off media?  Will we vote?

Mary Stamp - Editor

Copyright © June 2016 - The Fig Tree